Back to Basics #1: Posture and Centering Overview

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In traditional Suzuki musical training, a young student's first lesson is on how to bow. In some students, this may be the entire lesson. A student has not mastered this lesson until they can stand feet together and bow to their teacher.

Whether or not you agree with this technique, there can be no doubt as to Suzuki's effectiveness, so it's interesting to ask:

Why?

Of course there are many reasons, but I'd like to suggest two based on my experience.

1) Control of the body is aligned with control of the mind and concentration.
2) Control of balance and a command of balance creates a solid base for all technique.

In piano technique, this basic control of our body is often treated as an afterthought. "Remember to sit up straight" is about as much as you *might* hear. When in reality, it is the foundation for everything else.

Your body is quite literally the base that your arms and fingers rest upon.

To see this in action, get on youtube and watch some of the truly great piano technicians: people like Argerich, Horowitz, Gilels, Perahiah, Schiff, or the great Marc-Andre Hamelin.

The first thing you're going to notice is their incredible presence, musicality, and technique. *But step back for a second.* Watch their bodies. Some will move more than less, but notice how their torsos provide a base of support for everything else. Their torsos are agile and supple (not slouching), firm enough to give a steady base to the shoulder and arms, but without tension. They are able to move their weight from side to side, front and back, without being thrown off balance.

You can experience this for yourself, first standing and then sitting.

Standing on two feet, move from side to side. You will feel the weight slowly transfer from one foot to the next. If you move too far over, your center of gravity will pass over your base (in this case, where the two feet are touching) and you will fall over.

Now have a seat. You can feel this weight move side to side again but on your seat bones. If your feet are not touching the floor, you'll find you can't shift far without falling over. Your feet will provide broader base (including for leaning forward) and will also allow you to stabilize more.

In my first set of Fundamentals of Piano Technique Videos, we talk about finding the ideal bench position and how to center and set.
  • Finding a correct distance from the piano.
  • Finding a bench height that is just right for your body.
  • The alignment of the shoulders and hips, and understanding where the load-bearing portion of the spine is.
  • Finding a neutral wrist position
  • Watching out for the "disconnected" body syndrome. Where the body is held artificially back while the shoulders, and neck are thrust forward towards the piano.

Once you find the best seating and bench position for you, you can experiment with comfortably shifting your weight back and forth while remaining supported in the torso and lower back.

To practice centering and setting:
  1. Sit with your hands gently in your lap in this "seated" position.
  2. Find your concentrated center and take a deep breath.
  3. Gently float your hands up to the piano keyboard.

Practice this until it is so habitual you simply can't think of any other way to begin playing.

Note: There are many videos on YouTube of the great pianists. It can often be difficult to see their entire body because of shifting camera angles. Below is one video of the great Martha Argerich. Notice how he body is supported and supple but not tense. There are no unnecessary movements and complete economy of motion in her playing: